Halftime, A triangle?, and the JJ Benefit Tour

So, here we are kicking off the second half of the NASCAR regular season, and the month of June.  Once again, it is time for the tricky triangle of Pocono Raceway.  Pocono is a three turn, 2.5 mile flat track in the middle of the beautiful Poconos of Pennsylvania.  Racing aside, this track always takes the best pictures with the mountains surrounding the area.  And as of late, the racing has been more exciting as well.  Don’t tell the France family, but I actually think NASCAR got it right when they shortened the events from 500 to 400 miles a few years ago…Now I know what you’re thinking.  “Richard, you constantly complain that the races are too short, and they are taking exciting laps away from the fans, and ruining the overall product by making the races a 2.5-3 hour affair instead of the all-day marathons they used to be.”  And, you are correct.  That is me every week.  Except here.  And there is a very complex and good reason for that.

Over the years, the racing here has been boring at best, and nap inducing at its worst.  If you want to sleep with a race in the background, this track almost always worked.  I can think of many exciting moments that have happened here, but they are just moments, in a four hour afternoon.  I think back to this exciting finish.  I think to the race where this happened.  and I think of some very hard crashes, some career ending.  But for all that, the track is wide enough for side-by-side-by-side racing, but it almost never happens for long.  The better cars with the best set-ups, and best pit strategy pull away, and dominate these events.  For instance, in that 1995 race where Jeff missed the shift, Those were the most competitive five laps of the entire race, and if not for that restart, no one had anything for the 24.

Again, that is not to say, that we can’t have a barn burner today, but history is not on our side.  That being said, I love to pull for the underdog, so I will go in, beverage in hand to undertake this endeavor with narrowed eyes, and the intensity of a champion…  Or I will just watch the race on what looks like it is shaping up to be a soggy Sunday afternoon here in Indiana.  So here is some stuff to know for today.

31 drivers have found their way to Pocono’s victory lane in NASCAR’S top series.  Jeff Gordon leads all drivers with six wins here.  Oddly enough, he also leads all active drivers with six runner-up finishes as well.  Jeff leads all active drivers in top-fives (19), and top-tens (29).  So naturally, he does NOT lead all active drivers in average finish.  Jimmie Johnson holds that distinction with an 8.83. Six drivers have won consecutive races here.  Most recently, it was Denny Hamlin who pulled the season sweep in his rookie year of 2006.  Hamlin also leads all drivers with a 6.5 average start here.  BTW, Hamlin is your polesitter.  Joe Nemecheck leads all active drivers in trips to Pocono without taking the trophy home with 38 races here.  The stat becomes very interesting when you see that the next two are tied at 28.  Neither Dale Earnhardt Jr., or Matt Kenseth have won here.  That may be about to change today…(a little foreshadowing if you will)

15 of the previous 72 Cup races here have been won from the pole.  (20.8%)  24 have been won from the front row.  (33.3%)  That is good news for Hamlin and Kurt Busch.  50 have been won from a top-ten starting position.  Once again, the good cars start up front, and pull away.  Only five times has a winner started outside the top-20, and found his way to the winner’s circle.  So naturally, I am going to pick a driver who is starting in the 26th position.  He has historically struggled here, but I am going with Matt Kenseth to pick up his first career Pocono win.  As far as a dark horse goes, how about Jamie McMurray.  He has been running a lot better lately.  He has never been particularly strong here, but this season just seems to be shining on him.  He won the All-Star race a few weeks back, and ran 5th in the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day Weekend.  A 13th place finish last week isn’t indicative of where he was running in the late stages.  This team is turning the corner to make a run at the Chase this season.  With the new format, some wily pit strategy late in one of these races can get him a victory and ensure his post-season berth.

Speaking of ensuring his post-season berth, how about that Jimmie Johnson?  It wasn’t three full weeks ago, we were all wondering what was wrong with six-time.  “Oh Lawdy, could the team turn it around in time for the chase?”  Now, I literally heard someone last night complain that he is winning everything.  It has just been two races people!  And both of them were at tracks he has dominated over his career.  I have to laugh.  There is definitely a bi-polar reaction to the most successful driver in this generation of NASCAR racing.

The MRN broadcast begins at Noon.  Tune into 100.3 FM if you live in the Central Indiana area, or visit www.korncountry.com to listen live to the Pennsylvania 400.  Join my Facebook group to talk racing at For The Love Of Racing.

Memorial Day Traditions

It’s finally here.  One of my top-five favorite days of the year is finally here, and it looks like the forecasts are going to be great.  The focus today is on 1100 miles of great racing.  It’s the 98th running of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, and then we cap it off with 600 miles from the Charlotte Motor Speedway.  All the pre-race hype is almost complete, and it’s time to put up or shut up for 75 drivers and 76 teams.  Mr. Busch’s wild ride will have him jet-setting from Indy to Charlotte this afternoon at what he can call his half-time break.  When it’s all said and done, whether you are waiting for the milk, or the Coca-Cola, today is about racing, on a weekend that is all about remembering those who came before us, and paved the roads for our future.  So, pop-a-top, raise your glass, or whatever it takes as we salute our armed forces, and settle in for 1100 miles of racing.  All of it, can be heard on your official Sprint Cup/Indy 500 Station, KORN Country 100.3.

Oh, and by the way, picking Tony Kanaan to win back to back 500s, with Takuma Sato as my dark horse.  In the evening event, going with Matt Kenseth, and after yesterday’s exciting Nationwide race, Kyle Larson looks to pick up his first Cup win in a race that has given us so many first-time winners.  Jeff Gordon (1994), Bobby Labonte (1995), Matt Kenseth (2000), and Casey Mears (2006).  Larson will be my longshot pick while we can still call him that.  I seriously believe this kid will be amazing very soon.

An All-Star Kind Of Night

What a night of racing last night at the Charlotte Motor Speedway!  40 nail biting laps to determine who made the All-Star race.  And to top it, the fan vote went to a driver who has went out of his way to be a fan favorite when they get interviewed every week.  Wait, what’s that?  Oh I was watching a past All-Star Race.  Oh well.  The 2014 edition of The Sprint Showdown lacked any real drama, as the top-two ran off and hid in both segments.  Going into the race, Clint Bowyer and A.J. Allmendinger were favorites to race Saturday night.  The only real surprise was how no one else was really even close.  But for an early race spin, Marcos Ambrose showed enough strength to keep it close, but Bowyer and Allmendinger had the field covered.

However the fan vote was a different story.  Don’t get me wrong, Josh Wise is a good race car driver.  You don’t make it to the top without skill, talent, and someone’s money.  But to say he is more popular than Danica, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, Ambrose, Casey Mears and even Paul Menard who actually won a Brickyard 400, is laughable at best.  I dare the Fox Cameras to show me anyone with a Josh Wise shirt on tonight.  But this is what we have.  I wish the boy luck as I have a bet with the fiancee.  She says he won’t make it three laps, I say he’ll make it three segments…maybe not on the lead lap, but he will be running at the end of segment three.  Surely that’s worth a few dogecoins.  (What is wrong with people?)

The All-Star Race was at its best when you had guys racing in.  I have never been a fan of the Fan Vote.  Also, the segments in these races are nothing more than glorified competition cautions, which gimmick the strategy so much that everyone almost always has to do the same thing on pit road.  A true All-Star race would feature 100 laps, or whatever the total distance you want is, where there are no extended cautions,  no mid-race breaks, no re-starting in a backup car, no limits on what the teams can do on pit stops, but no waiting around for them.  Just like an actual race.  Make it long enough where they will have to pit at least once, but probably twice.  No guaranteed cautions, just let the flag fly when needed.  If you have a veteran running on fumes at the end of one of these, racing a young gun with four new tires and a two second gap with ten to go, give me some popcorn and keep quiet.

Now for the fun part of this story.  I am logging off all social media once this is posted.  There is a big event at the Salem Speedway in Salem Indiana.  It’s the Casey’s General Store Spring Speed Fest.  As track announcer, I will be seeing some of the best short track racing anywhere.  As a result, I will be watching the All-Star race sometime tomorrow.  I also will be tracking pole day qualifying for the “Greatest Spectacle In Racing”.  It may be Sunday night before I watch the truck race from Friday.  I’m going for the upset in the All-Star race.  There is this driver who has shown some flashes of potential success in his career.  Although he hasn’t won a race since sometime last year, I just think he has what it takes to win in NASCAR’s biggest night.  I pick the guy trying to win this race for the third consecutive time; Jimmie Johnson.  Let me know who you are picking by joining our FB group.  For The Love Of Racing.  As always, tune into your official Sprint Cup Station, www.korncountry.com

We’re Not In Kansas Anymore, But NASCAR Is.

So here we are, getting set for a Saturday Night Special for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.  We are getting ready to see an exciting show under the lights, from the heartland of this great country.  Kansas Speedway has played host to some great racing, brilliant pit strategy, and for the first time ever, we turn on the lights tonight for NASCAR’s top series.  Practice and qualifying gave us some Stewart Haas Racing dominance.  In particular, the Freaky Fast Jimmy John’s Chevrolet driven by Kevin Harvick destroyed the competition in knockout qualifying.  Harvick won here from the pole last time we visited this oval.  In fact, the last two Sprint Cup races here were won from the pole.  (Matt Kenseth won this race last season)

The announcers are heavily promoting that this is a home race for Clint Bowyer, but we also can’t forget this is also the home track for Carl Edwards.  Two very popular drivers who aren’t afraid to put it all out there for the win.  This track has been wide open for competition in the 16 races here.  Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, and Jimmie Johnson each have two wins here.  Four races have been won from the pole, and five have been won from the front row.  That is good news for Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano.  Both of those drivers have had little trouble finding Victory Lane, as they each have two wins.  Only two of the 16 races have been won from outside the top-20 qualifying positions.  It is not impossible to win from the back here, but it is also not impossible to be caught up in someone else’s mess on the first few laps.  Example one would be last night’s truck race.  The race could never get any sense of a rhythm and was difficult to watch because no one could seem to get a handle on the track.  It all sets up for a wild night in Kansas.  I’m picking Matt Kenseth to get his first win of the season.

So tune on in to Fox on the television, and KORN Country on the radio.  Hey, it’s time to go racing.

Back In Touch With My First True Love

Well that was a whirlwind month since we last spoke.  I have been ultra-busy with the wedding planning, and work, and blah, blah, blah.  and oh yeah, I have a couple new friends; my beautiful baby nieces, Emily and Emerson.  (although they sound like twins, they are a few months apart.  Now when Eli gets here next month, Uncle Richard will be stretched pretty thin.  Yes, indeed, for the next month, I can get away with this gem.

Last weekend, the legendary highbanks of the Salem Speedway Fueled by the Hoosier Lottery opened up with a two day show that featured the cars and stars of the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards.  I have the fortune of being the announcer at the famed venue, and am able to see the future stars of the sport as they are starting to climb the ladder.  For instance, in the last few years, I have seen several drivers make the leap to the Nationwide and even Sprint Cup Series that left their mark on the Salem Speedway.  Drivers like Chase Elliott, Parker Kligerman, Alex Bowman, and a couple of boys with the last name Dillon.  Maybe you’ve seen a few of these guys on the T.V. doing commercials about growing up fast, Well the Salem Speedway has taught a few of them some lessons.

It was on this “business trip”, that I got a chance to reconnect with an old flame.  Actually it re-energized my passion for my first love, RACING.  In the midst of everything that has been going on, I saw one heck of a race, and the culmination of a very historical start to the season.  Fairhope Alabama’s Grant Enfinger has had an amazing start to the 2014 season in the ARCA series.  Enfinger became the first driver since 1970 to win the first three races of an ARCA season.  He would also go on to win the pole at Talladega this weekend.  (spoiler alert, the streak came to an end Saturday, as Tom Hessert picked up the victory at Talladega.)  Grant was also able to secure funding to race the entire season, and announced it this weekend.  It’s feel good stories like this that make me love coming to the track, or turning the television, radio, or online stream of a race on.

Another feel good story swept NASCAR after this race last season.  The Davids were able to slay the Goliaths when, well, see for yourself.  Front Row Motorsports was fortunate to have its teams make the race.  Mired back in points, with limited sponsorship dollars, and mostly funded out of pocket by the owners, They put their drivers first and second at the finish of a Sprint Cup Series race.  That is what makes all the struggles, all the defeats, all the failures worth it in the end.  To hold that trophy high, and know that against all odds, and in spite of the level of competition that you are facing, the draft equalizes all.  In four races a season, (Both Daytona and Talladega events) NASCAR uses restrictor plates to limit the amount of fuel getting to the engine, thereby reducing horsepower and speed.  The lower speeds do a better job of keeping the race cars on the racetracks, and not next to you in the stands.  Sometimes.

Every race fan knows that the restrictor plates lead to closer speeds, and tight packs held together by the holes in the air that the cars create.  The groups of cars will “draft together” (basically the cars not leading will follow as closely as possible in the tire tracks of the leaders, reducing the air resistance on the front of their cars, and enabling them to go faster than the leader)  If the leader and a pack of cars are in agreement, this arrangement can last however long is necessary, as a few years ago, we saw some groups get together at the green flag, and run to the finishing laps before they tried to mix it up.  It always seems to start with the adage, “Hey, I am going to stick with my teammate.”  or Hey, I’m going to stick with the cars that are out of the same manufacturer.”  It always comes down to the end of one of these with someone saying, “Hey, I am going to stick with anyone who wants to help me make a move…NOW!”  Because of the similarities in horsepower, and the desperation of some competitors, they may be inclined to work with drivers that wouldn’t normally be on their radar.  Someone like a David Ragan, or a Trevor Bayne could get up there again.

Ragan, Bayne, Jamie McMurray, and until recently, Kevin Harvick, and Dale Earnhardt Jr were a few drivers who shone on these tracks, but struggled most everywhere else.  And we can’t forget this generation’s Plate Track Overachiever, Michael Waltrip.  This style of racing seems to suit some drivers, and not so much others. For instance, Although he has won a Sprint cup Championship, and on every other style of track, Kurt Busch has never won a plate points race.  He has been one of the most consistent drivers on finishing with a top-5 or top-10, but has never been in the right place, with the right partner at the end of one of these.  Ryan Newman has had some memorable rides, but at least has a Daytona 500 victory to show for it. (ironically enough, Kurt Busch played good teammate to push Newman to the 2008 Daytona 500 win) For all his success at Daytona in July, Tony Stewart has only one Talladega trophy, and is still looking to cross the line first at NASCAR’S biggest track…until today.

That’s right.  He has struggled mightily this season, but today will be a very bright day for Stewart Haas Racing as the owner returns to victory lane after last season was cut short due to a serious injury.  Check out all of the action on KORN Country 100.3 FM, or listen live right here on www.korncountry.com